The Joomla! Community Magazine™

The JUX Position: Interview with Ron Severdia

Written by | Saturday, 01 October 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 October
Long-time advocate for a User Experience (UX) focus at the heart of the Joomla project, Ron Severdia spoke to the JCM about the recent launch of the Joomla! User Experience (JUX) Team website. Ron, a Joomla user since 2006, is Creative Director of Kontent Design, a member of the Production Leadership Team (PLT), and a member of the Kunena team.

It is exciting to see the JUX website launch! Can you give us some background on the evolution of this endeavor?

I wanted to get a UX group going for several years now, but the idea never gained traction. I realized it would take a formalized UX team, recognized by the leadership, to get more done. It took some time, and at the PLT summit in June, the idea of federating the concept of working groups was adopted. That meant anyone in the community could now propose a working group (“blessed” by the Leadership Team), thereby concentrating community efforts and avoiding redundancy. The leadership no longer needs to choose between two different proposed ideas (possibly competing) and disappointing some contributors. Now those working on the same effort can better collaborate together. To join or propose a Working Group, visit the Wiki for details.

As soon as the system was in place to recognize and form Working Groups, I submitted the proposal for a JUX team. Kyle Ledbetter and I had been discussing this for about a year and a half, and were excited to see it finally come to fruition.

For those unfamiliar with the term "user experience" (UX), what are the primary elements that go into creating a great UX? How does UX differ from the term "user interface" (UI)?

User experience is very commonly misunderstood. UI is a part of, or a subset of overall UX. On the new JUX website, the forum has a good list of the user experience building blocks: process, user research, interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design and accessibility. If we use these areas as the foundation, the sum of those parts is what will define the overall user experience. Under each category, there’s a description of what that area does so we’re all on the same page. The idea is to formulate a cohesive experience for the user by tackling each one in depth in the forum.

User experience for many applies to website visitors. In the case of Joomla we have the user experience of site builders, as well as backend administrators. Which users is the JUX team most concerned with?

The JUX team will target the UX of site administrators and builders, focusing on the admin interface and the process of building and managing a Joomla website. Recently at JDay Chicago (and a year ago at JDay West), I gave a presentation outlining the Joomla User Experience, which demonstrates this idea. It is up to site builders to craft the visitor experience, because only they know their users. So we are focusing on backend users—from total novice to expert. That's a wide enough scope already and if we can manage that then we're doing really good!

Joomla! has a reputation for being a user-friendly, yet powerful CMS. Is there a tradeoff between improving the user experience and staying at the top of the power curve?

There doesn't need to be a tradeoff in that way. It is always possible to have ease of use and balance it with the power we have come to expect from Joomla. Mac OS X is a prime example of this—it is a complex operating system with a lot of power. A poor UX and UI designer could have easily made it a complex and frustrating experience, but it's not. A lot of thinking and intelligence went to its structure and interaction design. They didn't have developers designing the UI, because it isn't realistic to expect them to do that. It’s not their skillset.

There was a time when all we had to do was verify the user experience across different web browsers and the major desktop OS's. Now there's mobile. What challenges does designing for mobile devices bring, and what does that mean for the Joomla user experience specifically?

The mobile space is changing all the time. I think we should focus on a few basic things like making the Joomla interface touch friendly. That means going through the whole administrator interface and ensuring that on an iPad everything works as expected. For example, currently when you use a Joomla backend dropdown menu on an iPad, you have to tap a menu item twice in order to activate it. Things can be done to make that UI experience smoother and more consistent. For devices with smaller screens it means having a template that’s familiar and maintains consistency yet makes better use of the smaller screen real estate. Another thing to take into account is the limitations of the various mobile browsers. For example, some mobile browsers support a subset of CSS or JavaScript and may not support everything you can do in a desktop browser. If we come to that kind of a crossroad, we’ll always need to bear in mind if an idea won't work on mobile devices, do we do it anyway and how will we accommodate for mobile devices?

What kinds of contributors and skill sets is the JUX team looking for?

We are looking for people who have experience working with any or all of the building block areas of the user experience. You may be on an information architecture team if you work for a large company, or you may be the one person doing that if it's a smaller operation. You may be a part of a UX team with experience in multiple areas. We are looking for people who have good real world experience doing these things for clients and are willing to contribute some time to Joomla. Like any other Working Group, the JUX Team is an open group and anyone can join. We hope to build a core team of 4 or 5 coordinators to drive the group process forward.

What is the vision for fleshing out the JUX website? Will the forum be the primary entry point for contributors?

Kyle and I (and others on the PLT) have discussed a lot of different tools and we keep coming back to a discussion forum as the primary collaboration space. We looked at other tools, but what we need are threaded discussions, subscription options, file postings for design mockups, etc. No one needs special permissions to jump in or out of the process in a forum. We also have a “paper trail” of sorts for decision-making.

The forum is for the “hashing out” which happens up to a decision point and keeps everything open. Then at some point, the JUX website will have permanent pages containing things like user research to keep those important results from getting lost in the forum. We want to have pages for decisions, conclusions, benchmarks and milestones for reference at various stages throughout the process.


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Alice Grevet

Alice Grevet

Joomla! sitebuilder and freelance web designer specializing in non-profits. Co-Lead Editor on the Joomla! Community Magazine, and Secretary on the Board of Open Source Matters.